|LOCATION OF PROBLEM||NATURE OF PROBLEM||ACTION OR MITIGATION||SUCCESS MONITORING|
|Main Stem River Lochy
|Low number of spawners in lower river due to lack of autumn-run fish||Electro-fishing survey undertaken to inform areas to seed with 2g summer fry in July||Electro-fishing survey the following year to count corresponding parr numbers|
|Main stem River Lochy
|Predation from goosanders, particularly during smolt run||Predator control through non-lethal bird scaring undertaken throughout the year with emphasis on spring and late autumn||Visual counts of goosanders throughout the year|
|Main stem River Lochy
|Predation from cannibal trout, particularly during smolt run at pinch points||Spring trout fishing at river pinch points (open trout fishing up to known local angling clubs)||Cumulative visual and trout rod catch evidence every year|
|Main grilse spawning tributaries (Loy, Lundy, Cour etc)
|Critically low number of spawners well below minimum spawning targets. Due to low marine survival of 1sw grilse in particular.
Habitat degradation in areas of commercial forestry and Smelter intake dams.
|Wild Lochy smolts grown on to produce captive broodstock. Eyed ova from these broodfish planted in artificial redds in all tributaries in late winter.
Live discussions with new owners of smelter and Forestry interests to improve flows and riparian habitat in Lundy and Cour tributaries.
|Annual electro fishing survey will inform whether corresponding fry numbers are healthy in stocked locations the following summer|
|River Roy headwaters
|Critically low number of spawners well below minimum spawning targets. Due to low marine survival rates (and long-standing habitat issues?)||25,000 fin clipped autumn parr stocked out in September. Talks with Estate on improvements to bankside fencing and riparian planting||Catches and electro-fishing will inform the success of this project funded by Braeroy Estate|
|Loch Arkaig catchment
|Critically low number of spawners well below minimum spawning targets. Several cumulative local factors possibly at play (low marine survival, Mucomir Dam, smolt farms and forestry).||Loch Arkaig Restoration Project – trapping wild smolts, growing captive broodstock and planting out eyed ova. Ongoing talks with SSE about improvements to flows and fish passage at Mucomir, coupled with ongoing dialogue aimed at improvements with all catchment neighbours||Fish counters and cameras at Mucomir Dam and River Arkaig hydro Dam, rod catches and annual electro-fishing, will inform the success of this multi-partner project (RLA, SSE, MHS, Lochiel Estate etc)|
|Estuary (Loch Linnhe and the Sound of Mull)
|Sea lice, escapes, disease from fish farms||Direct involvement with local fish farmers on a regular basis seeking to reduce lice or remove fish entirely during wild smolt run. Through very active membership of FMS Aquaculture Committee, working towards better cooperation with national industry and Scottish Government initiatives||Lice numbers, disease issues, escapes and unexplained mortalities are received on a monthly basis for all of the fish farms in Loch Linnhe and the Sound of Mull. Success of these industry-led initiatives and improvements becomes quickly apparent|
|High seas (ocean migration and marine phase from West Coast to North Norwegian Sea and East of Faroes).
|Lack of food due to major changes in the oceanic eco-system. Competition by pelagic fish. Predation by other species coping better with the changing climate (dolphins, seals, other fish species etc)||Working closely with key international scientists in the field with an objective of raising pelagic fishing quotas. Supporting the work of the AST, and particularly liaising closely on a west coast smolt tracking project proposal||Success may be slow but it may look like this – improvements to summer and autumn runs; increase in weight/condition of grilse; reduction of red vent syndrome in grilse (a sign of weakened immune and poor condition)|
Water height : 3-4ft6
Water temp : 50-52F
The Penultimate week of the season saw few anglers on the river but this probably had a positive impact on the fishing. A total of 13 salmon were landed – equalling the 2nd best week of the season. All from Beats 1 and 2. Unfortunately, Beats 3 and 4 are holding very few fish but this is normal in years with such low stock levels within the catchment.
The light fishing effort allowed pools to be rested which, at this time of year, can make a big difference to finding a taking fish.
With a dropping river after Thursdays heavy rainfall, Friday and Saturday were productive days. Kenny MacGregor managed a couple form Garrabduhie stream while Howard Evans finished off his season with an old 18lb cock fish from Garrabudhie flats.
Next week will draw a close to season 2018. A similar catch return to this past-week will take the total to 100 Salmon/Grilse – better than 2017 but less than half of 2016 and the current 5 yr average.
Water height : 5ft-12ft
Water temp : 50-52F
With continual rainfall in the catchment the river remained high for the whole week. Monday through to Wednesday were wet and windy days and not the easiest of conditions for the anglers. River levels peaked at 12ft on Tuesday morning and then 8ft on Thursday making actual fishing somewhat challenging…… but not completely impossible. Some Lochy pools can often produce at very high levels and indeed two fish were landed at the start of the week with a further 7 caught on Friday and Saturday as water levels steadied off. Once Again, most were MSW salmon.
On the Upper catchment, the River Spean benefits greatly from sustained high water and I’ve heard a reasonable number of fish were landed.
The forecast is showing some further heavy rain middle of next week which is bound to increase river levels once again….but this may not be a bad thing!
Water height – 2ft6-6ft6
Water temp – 52-54F
This is the first September week for a few years that it actually felt Autumnal! Water levels reached their highest since January-peaking at over 6ft, but more importantly water temperatures dropped from around 60F to low 50s – a key trigger point for salmon migration. This significant change in conditions was welcomed by the anglers and they took full advantage.
A dozen fish were caught and a few more lost – not record breaking by previous years standards, but with so few Grilse in the system, this was a very satisfying result!
As expected, most of the fish landed were MSWsalmon. Some had been in river for a good few months, others only a few weeks or quite possibly they were sitting out in the Sea Loch awaiting both water conditions and temperature to change?
Steve Wellards party had the lions of the catch with an average weight of 14lbs.
Pat Webster – a new Lochy tenant and relatively new to salmon fishing, hadn’t landed a salmon before this trip. Not only did he manage 1, but he went on to land a further 2 and lost a couple more. I should mention he was aided and guided superbly well by Andy Burton – well done to both. Suffice to say Pat left with a rather large smile on his face!
There was some minor room for optimism at the start of last week. River levels finally steadied off and starting dropping back to just over 1ft on the beat 3 gauge. Fishing conditions, for once, were almost perfect. More encouraging was the appearance of some fresh fish into the system. Ok, it wasn’t significant numbers but it was enough to provide some action and sport to the anglers.
The best of these was caught by Christopher Zawadski – a fine 18lb fresh cock salmon from beat 2. A fresh Grilse was also landed on Beat 2.
Unfortunately, this flurry of activity did not last and the latter half of the week was much quieter again.
It looks like the rain is making a return for this coming week so river levels are likely to rise again. Hopefully it may encourage a few more fresh fish in!!
Water Level: 1ft5-2ft
Water Temp: 55-60F
As what seems to be the norm these past years, August is our wet month. Rain fell in the catchment most days and kept river levels running around 1ft 6. This is, of course, a great fishing height for the main river beats but with few fresh fish about it does make then harder to find.
A total fo 5 salmon and grilse were landed, which is an improvement on the previous week but still far short of what we need. We did however have a “first salmon” for Humphrey Waltham-Dawson (Trapp party) – 13lb cock fish from Beat 2. It took a stripped sunray at the tail of Garra steam.
Simon Long also had a nice 9lber from Beat 2 while John Trapp managed a couple Grilse.
I would like to think we still have some fresh fish to come but reports from elsewhere do suggest that the summer Grilse runs are perilously low so we shall see what transpires over the coming days and weeks.
It cannot have escaped anyone’s attention that summer and autumn grilse numbers have been in steep decline across the whole of Scotland for several years now. The West Coast rivers, being primarily grilse fisheries, are being particularly badly affected. There will be a range of reasons for the decline – many most likely the result of global climate change (perhaps cyclical, perhaps not) – but one of these is likely to be the rapidly expanding pelagic fish stock throughout the whole of the salmon’s 2000 mile journey in the North East Atlantic. It would appear that mackerel in particular have mushroomed in number and spread over the last 5 years or so and present a very stark competitive and predation risk to small surface-swimming salmon smolts in their first year at sea. It would also seem that if the smolts can survive this dense proliferation of predatory competition then the pelagic fish themselves become their prey – hence possibly why we see the early MSW salmon in such great condition when they return from the sea, albeit the fewer numbers that survive the competition in their first year at sea.
At the moment the pelagic predation and competition threat is a hypothesis (see link below for the summary paper) but we are compelled by the seeming evidence at ‘river level’ and we are working closely with its author (the leading marine biologist and pelagic/salmon expert Jens Christian Holst) to try and facilitate international cooperation to facilitate further research into this field. As a key part of Dr Holst’s hypothesis suggests that the relevant authorities are using outdated models to assess the pelagic stock and set the fishing quotas for these species, the end goal of the research (should the hypothesis be shown unequivocally to be based on fact) will be to attain much much larger quotas for fishing vessels to harvest mackerel in the NE Atlantic. This may also include a ‘safe passage’ corridor along the known path of migrating salmon smolts on the ocean conveyor belt on the continental shelf edge west of Hebrides all the way up to the feeding grounds in the Norwegian Sea. The threat of salmon by-catch by pelagic trawlers remains very real but it seems likely that the ecosystem-sized problem of mackerel competition probably dwarfs the potential numbers involved in anthropomorphic by-catch (the AST are currently undertaking a project using eDNA to try and put a number on the by-catch issue which should report at the end of the year).
Meanwhile there will be a host of other factors, both in freshwater and the sea, that will be impacting salmon numbers. We are closely involved with the Atlantic Salmon Trust’s new ‘Likely Suspects’ project that will be attempting to put some numbers on these factors both in a local and national context. These figures will hopefully then inform where action and resources can be most effectively delivered. In the case of the Lochy such factors will inevitably include hydro dams, winter floods, bird and seal predation, forestry and fish farms. All of these areas are being addressed on a constant basis through close stakeholder dialogue and practical action, but it will help to perhaps be able to put some of these risks into an overall relative context and where we need to concentrate our efforts.
Meanwhile on the ground we are making sure we have a very clear picture of how the freshwater phase of the Lochy salmon’s life cycle is performing – A very detailed habitat survey of all spawning and juvenile habitat in the entire catchment, including all the main stems of the Lochy/Spean/Roy and Arkaig and all their tributaries, gives us a very clear idea of how many spawning salmon is takes to fill each area of the catchment. Obviously with these drastic falling numbers of returning grilse some of these spawning targets are not now being met. Generally speaking the higher catchment is performing better than lower down in the system, which is what one would expect when the bulk of the run appears in the spring and early summer. An annual electro fishing survey allows us to put numbers on this and shows us where the main gaps are in the catchment.
Using these data we are able to respond using our hatchery and reseed barren areas of juvenile habitat with summer fry. Furthermore, due to the extensive facilities and skill base at the hatchery, we are also able to safeguard the future juvenile populations by growing indigenous captive broodstock in the hatchery for each area of the catchment and then releasing eyed ova from these broodstocks into redds in the gravel each winter (in streams where no redds were counted the previous winter).
There is little doubt though that the recent declines seen in returning salmon and grilse to the Lochy lies primarily in their marine phase and we see the job of organisations such as the Atlantic Salmon Trust as critical to the future of the species. Meanwhile all we can do at a local level is maximise the healthy output of the river (which is essentially just a ‘smolt factory’) through habitat improvement and protection, controlled adult exploitation and targeted restocking to allow each river and tributary to reach its juvenile carrying potential.
Jon Gibb, River Lochy Association. 12th August 2018.